Sam Harris is racist

I woke up yesterday to distressing, though not completely unsurprising news: author, intellectual heavyweight, and [supposed] skeptic Sam Harris had interviewed Charles Murray.  Yes, that Charles Murray who, along with Richard J Herrnstein, co-authored The Bell Curve, a controversial-because-it-is-a-racist-pile-of-trash 1994 book. The Bell Curve reintroduced the concept of scientific (or intellectual) racism into modern USAmerican discourse and stayed on the New York Times’ bestseller’ list for 15 weeks, selling roughly 300,000 copies. It clearly struck a familiar and racist chord with people–especially its likely target audience:  white people (many of whom felt they finally had a scientific basis for their racist beliefs).  Of course, for all that it has a history reaching back to at least the 1800s, scientific racism is little more than repurposed white supremacist ideology with a touch of “science” (air quotes because it’s really that cheap knock-off of the real thing, pseudoscience). Murray’s book, which was an attempt to fuse alternative scientific facts with racist ideology, has been thoroughly debunked multiple times (such as here, here, and here), and criticized for its questionable science and its faulty logic, as well as its sources. Additionally, there’s one other liiiiiiiiiiiitle thing the book has been criticized for: its financial backers, the Pioneer Group. A far-right organization of so-called “race realists”, the Pioneer Group is a white supremacist organization with Neo-Nazi ties that backs studies on race, intelligence, and eugenics with the ultimate aim of racial betterment of white folks (which, unfortunately doesn’t mean ‘seeking to redeem white folks in the eyes of PoC after centuries of genocide, slavery, rape, forced assimilation, and imperialism’ and likely means something more like  ‘making the country great for white people again by getting rid of all them colored folks forcibly or through…well, there is no “or” ‘).

Despite being a book beloved by many a white supremacist piece of shit, Charles Murray’s book–what with its faux science, unsupported and hastily drawn conclusions, sources of a…questionable nature, and its backing by fans of the guy who penned POTUS45’s favorite “alone time” book, Mein Kamf–the only use for The Bell Curve is kindling.

So we’ve got a white supremacist organization with Nazi ties (wonder if they know Nazi punching bag Richard Spencer) that provided the financial backing for Murray and Herrnstein to write a piece of racist trashfire material that sought to provide a scientific foundation for the belief that white people are the best, smartest, coolest kids on the block and all the rest of us suck bc we have too much melanin. Although widely discredited by the scientific community (including the notion that the full spectrum of human cognitive abilities can be measured by one’s intelligence quotient), the idea of scientific racism still managed to seep into the public consciousness. Furor over the book died down in time, but the central theme of the book never disappeared and unfortunately, intellectual racism is once again seeing a resurgence. Nicole Hemmer of U.S. News & World Report writes:

Intellectual racism, in its cultural and pseudoscientific guises, is having a bit of a renaissance of late. At least, it’s receiving more attention than at any time since the debut of “The Bell Curve,” the 1994 book by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray about race and IQ. Murray himself is back in the news, triggering protests as he tours college campuses. Andrew Sullivan, who published excerpts of Murray’s work as editor of The New Republic, recently went out of his way to make a case against the persistence of racism and for black pathology at the end of a much-read piece about Hillary Clinton. Within the last year, white nationalist sites like VDARE, American Renaissance and Radix have become part of the political landscape.

I’ve written elsewhere about the trap of intellectualized racism, which cuts against the common assumption that racism is rooted in ignorance and provincialism, that it can only be crude and passe. Thus when Richard Spencer, the face of the alt-right, shows up in a natty suit, he is treated as an unusual curiosity. When Charles Murray shows up brandishing a Ph.D. and some regression tables, he is treated as a sober-minded scholar.

Yes to all of this. Bigots like Spencer and Murray–in an effort to be seen (and thus treated) as respectable–have rejected the pointy white sheets and the jackboots worn by their racist predecessors. Similarly, instead of spending their free time lynching PoC or using them as gator bait (all with the ultimate purpose of instilling  terror in communities of color), many of today’s white supremacists put forth an air of respectability by repackaging their beliefs (and themselves) in an attempt to make them more palatable for the masses (doesn’t “peaceful ethnic cleansing”, oxymoron though it may sound, seem so much kinder, than mass murder?).  I suspect this is one reason why the odious ideas presented by these ethically challenged, morally bankrupt, evil human beings are gaining traction in the mainstream. As before, with the release of The Bell Curve, the dead and beaten horse that is intellectual racism allows people to justify their racist beliefs as scientific (nevermind the lack of science behind them).  And in the current political climate–one which saw the rise to the presidency of a morally repellent, authoritarian leaning, hater of the US Constitution, Mein Kamf loving misogynistic bully–there seems to be a great deal of interest in listening to and coddling the views of people who would like to see those like me six feet under or cast out from the place of my birth simply bc they think this country belongs only to white people. I’m talking about people like Richard Spencer, Ann Coulter, Milo Yiannopolous, Raymond Wolters, and yes, Charles Murray.

So when I hear that a prominent, well-respected (why?) member of the atheist community has conducted an interview with a man who is, and has long been known to be, a white supremacist*, my spider-sense goes off. From what I know of Sam Harris, he is something of an intellectual. I know he has a few degrees (one in philosophy and another in neuroscience, I believe). I know he’s written a few books that had a positive effect on some and a lackluster “meh” effect on others. Basically, I know he has some degree of higher education and knows how do research on a subject or person. And it’s that knowledge that rules out the first theory I have about why he conducted this interview: that he did not know who he [Murray] was or was not familiar with his views. I have a hard time accepting the idea that Sam Harris knew very little about Charles Murray and The Bell Curve, and thought “I need to clear some things up, so I can better understand his position. I should interview him.” No. When you can easily search for Murray and find his Wikipedia page, his entry at AEI, his well deserved page on the Southern Poverty Law Center‘s site, and more, there is no need to talk to the man to find out his beliefs.

Perhaps then, he decided to interview the racist woo peddler in order to give said beliefs a proper thrashing and demonstrate to a new audience what Dr. Stephen Gould demonstrated back in the 90s? This is certainly a valid approach, but unfortunately, it’s not one that he took, as evidenced by the apology Harris offers to Murray at the start of the podcast. Apparently, in the world according to the great Sam Harris (he who peels back the layers and reveals the truths *they* don’t want you to hear), this poor, poor fellow was viciously maligned by politically correct critics (I gotta say–great job completely ignoring the work of all the people who have rebutted Murray’s work over they years, including Dr. Gould). It’s pretty much downhill from there as you can see from the blog AngryWhiteMen where the author criticizes pretty much everything about Harris’ podcast, from Harris’ refusal to critically examine Murray’s beliefs to his failure to acknowledge the effect of scientific racism on social policy:

And then there’s the effect The Bell Curve has had, and will continue to have, on social policy. As Claudia S. Fischer et al pointed out in their 1996 rebuttal Inequality By Design: Cracking the Bell Curve Myth, the upshot of Murray and Herrnstein’s book was that “intelligence largely determined how well people did in life.” “The rich were rich mostly because they were smart, the poor were poor mostly because they were dumb, and middle Americans were middling mostly because they were of middling intelligence.” And, as we have already seen, their view on race and IQ is that blacks and Latinos “were by nature not as intelligent as whites; that is why they did less well economically, and that is why little can or should be done about racial inequality.”

In other words, no amount of affirmative action can raise the standard of living for black and Latino Americans, since they are mainly being held back by genetics. In addition, with lower than average IQs come other social consequences: violent crime, petty theft, out-of-wedlock births, and so on.

Is Harris aware of the impact applied scientific racism could have on the lives of those who are not white males? Does he care? If he is aware and does care, it is not apparent because he fails to offer a substantial rebuttal to Murray’s views. Thus, listeners are left with the impression that there is nothing unreasonable about them. The piece concludes by listing Harris’ failings as a host, a skeptic, and in my eyes, a decent human being:

And all of these points — unwillingness to engage with critics, connections to white supremacists, consequences for poor and non-white Americans — would have been worth bringing up in Harris’ conversation with Murray. As an interviewer, he should have done more than toss softballs and whitewash Murray’s record. As a skeptic, he should have been more willing to examine Murray’s beliefs. His unwillingness to do so will only bolster racist pseudoscience and toss more red meat to Murray’s white nationalist fans.

I think it’s safe to say at this point that Sam Harris did not conduct this interview with noted White Supremacist Piece of Shit Charles Murray to debunk his pseudoscientific beliefs. No, as it turns out, the interview was conducted because…well, I don’t want to try my hand at mindreading. I’ll leave the attempts at alt-science to people like Murray. I can’t speak to what Harris’ intent was with this piece. But I can talk about the impact of the piece, and its implications. That impact? Those implications? They say nothing good, and everything bad about Sam Harris. Consider the following:

  •  Harris chose to conduct this interview–an interview which sees the resurrection of the beaten horse that is scientific racism–at a time when our country is simmering in a toxic social and political stew. A stew in which racism is bubbling right on the surface, ready to explode. In several cases, that racism has bubbled above the surface and boiled over, as in the various clashes between  alt-righters white supremacists like Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopolous or the numerous incidents of law enforcement officers executing African-Americans leading to protest marches by Black Lives Matter activists. What message is sent when a leading figure in the secular/atheist movement plays host to a white supremacist without criticizing said views?  Among other things, it legitimizes Murray’s views.
  • He titled the episode ‘Forbidden Knowledge’. With a title like that, shouldn’t the listeners have knowledge imparted to them by the end of the episode? And not just knowledge, but useful, evidence based knowledge? I would think so. But the interview was with a man for whom evidence appears to be his personal Kryptonite.* His work has already been discredited several times over and the faux science behind it laid bare.  The impact here is ironic, given the title of the podcast. Rather than knowledge being imparted and peoples’ awareness raised, thanks to Harris’ softballing of Murray, misinformation, distortion, and outright lies are treated as legitimate and scientific in nature.
  • the financial backers of The Bell Curve, as well as some of the sources have strong Neo-Nazi ties. It should go without saying that if your backers or the source of your information are Nazi, you really ought to reexamine your work. From top down. Failure to do so allows Nazism one more foothold out of the sewer it belongs in. And we all know what happens when Nazism gains too much of a foothold.
  • Remember the connection between Murray and eugenics? Murray’s idea, that white people are genetically superior to People of Color paired with “race betterment” sounds uncomfortably close to a “Master Race”.
  • The impact of scientific racism on political issues such as immigration and government assistance programs would be huge. If our lot in life is determined (largely or in whole) by genetics, then nothing can be done to improve our quality of life. So why should government assistance programs exist? And why worry about racial inequality if our genes determine our place in the US caste system?

Consider too:

  • Sam Harris is advocate of racial profiling at airports  to root out terrorists (though he’s yet to give a non-appearance based reliable method for rooting out terrorists)
  • Sam Harris’ denigration of identity politics. Given that he considers himself an intellectual (he may even consider himself a Bright person), I can’t imagine he’d reject or denigrate an idea without first learning what the idea is (it’s not controversial to assume a leading figure is intellectually honest, is it?). So surely he is aware that identity politics is a form of political activism focused on uplifiting and liberating the various identity groups that are oppressed in society (groups like women, queer people, PoC, disabled people, etc). Further to that, surely he knows that identity politics is key to marginalized groups achieving liberation and equality. That can only be done by focusing on each group and finding out what they need to improve their quality of life.

When you take into account those considerations, as well as Harris’ whitewashing of  The Bell Curve, his refusal to critically examine Murray’s beliefs, and his lack of acknowledgment of the social costs of intellectually racist beliefs used in support  of legislation, a very unflattering image of Sam Harris begins to emerge.

I wish that image had been of a man who–recognizing the social power he has, the platform he possesses, and how far his influence reaches–had acted in a responsible manner to eviscerate racism. Publicly. Loudly. Without hesitation. I wish Harris understood that racism benefits all white people, bc in oppressing People of Color, it grants unfair advantages (privileges) to white people.  Those unfair advantages enable white people to make their way through life with fewer obstacles than if they had higher levels of melanin. Racism continues to exist because–collectively–white people have done next to nothing to tear down that system of oppression.

No, the image of Sam Harris is not a good one. What he did here was irresponsible. More to the point, it was also immoral, bc not only did he not work to tear down racism, he actively worked to shore up its foundations by lending credence to Murrays woo-filled beliefs, failing (or refusing) to critically examine Murray’s views, and raising the profile of a white supremacist and presenting his ideas to people who–already primed to trust and respect their host–might well be sympathetic to the views of a racist extremist whom the host treats cordially. By giving Murray a platform and challenging him in no substantial way, Harris may as well have told his listeners “treat what this man says as the truth”.

That’s a reinforcement of white supremacy.

And that is racism.

Which makes Sam Harris a racist.

 

*I’m not quibbling over the difference between white supremacist and white nationalist, bc both believe in the innate superiority of white people. White nationalists claim they just want a nation-state all to themselves and don’t have a problem with PoC, they just don’t want them in “their country”.  I don’t believe that claim. But more to the point, they believe they are genetically and intellectually superior to PoC, which is the same belief held by white supremacists. At the end of the day, maybe white nationalists don’t want to re-enslave African-Americans or continue the genocide of Indigenous people, but they are only a few steps removed from those who do. And they all play on team evil.

 

Oh, would you look at that, another prominent figure in the atheist movement wants to throw his lot in with Murray.

Sam Harris is racist
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Tauriq Moosa is not happy with the atheist movement

I won’t be part of a movement resolutely more focused on shielding rich, white dudes than by being inclusive of marganlised, non-male, non-white people. Count me out. Call me back when we give a shit about women and you can admit those of us writing in a small corner of the internet actually care about moral action, not money, for what we do.

You can and ought to read the rest here.

Here’s my response to his post:

There are so many things about this whole crapfest that piss me off. One of the biggest is the refusal of Dawkins, Harris, Shermer, and Nugent, as well as their followers to apply the same tools of logic, reason, and skepticism to their own views. They’re all sooooo ready to use those tools to shred the entrenched views of others (provided they’re religious), but to apply the tools internally? Hell no. They *can’t* do that. To allow others to criticize them and explain in detail why they need to reexamine themselves? Hell no. They *can’t* do that.
Instead of doing that, they double down.
Instead of doing that they whine about being bulled.
Instead of doing that, we get labeled as the ‘thought police’, ‘feminazi’s’, ‘jackbooted thugs’, ‘lynch mobs’, and other hyperbolic B.S. that doesn’t hold up upon examination (I question if Dawkins even understands what Orwell meant by the ‘Thought Police’).
Gah. If not for the fact that I’ve found a subset of the atheist community that does confront their own biases as well as those of others, that actively works to excise their own prejudices and expects the same of others…I don’t think I’d want anything to do with the atheist movement. Which I guess is what that crowd wants. They don’t want more LGBT People of Color among their ranks-at least not unless its on their terms; and for all that they sit upon their ivory throne in their ivory tower, they are not my lords, kings, or bosses. They do not get to dictate the terms of my participation. They *will* treat me with respect. They *will* treat women, LGBT people, and People of Color with respect. Or they will be part of an ever shrinking movement that wants nothing to do with they and their status quo.

Tauriq Moosa is not happy with the atheist movement

Richard Dawkins isn't so bright any more

At The Guardian, Adam Lee writes about the current shitstorm that Richard Dawkins has stirred up.

(excerpt)

The atheist movement – a loosely-knit community of conference-goers, advocacy organizations, writers and activists – has been wracked by infighting the last few years over its persistent gender imbalance and the causes of it. Many female atheists have explained that they don’t get more involved because of the casual sexism endemic to the movement: parts of it see nothing problematic about hosting conferences with all-male speakers or having all-male leadership – and that’s before you get to the vitriolic and dangerous sexual harassment, online and off, that’s designed to intimidate women into silence.

Richard Dawkins has involved himself in some of these controversies, and rarely for the better  – as with his infamous “Dear Muslima”  letter in 2011, in which he essentially argued that, because women in Muslim countries suffer more from sexist mistreatment, women in the west shouldn’t speak up about sexual harassment or physical intimidation. There was also his sneer at women who advocate anti-sexual harassment policies .

But over the last few months, Dawkins showed signs of détente with his feminist critics – even progress. He signed a joint letter with the writer Ophelia Benson, denouncing and rejecting harassment ; he even apologized for the “Dear Muslima” letter . On stage at a conference in Oxford in August, Dawkins claimed to be a feminist  and said that everyone else should be, too.

Then another prominent male atheist, Sam Harris, crammed his foot in his mouth and said that atheist activism lacks an “estrogen vibe” and was “to some degree intrinsically male” . And, just like that, the brief Dawkins Spring was over.

On Twitter these last few days, Dawkins has reverted to his old, sexist ways and then some. He’s been very busy snarling about how feminists are shrill harridans who just want an excuse to take offense, and how Harris’s critics (and his own) are not unlike thought police witch-hunter lynch mobs . Dawkins claimed that his critics are engaged in “clickbait for profit” , that they “fake outrage” , and that he wished there were some way to penalize them.

For good measure, Dawkins argued that rape victims shouldn’t be considered trustworthy if they were drinking .

Benson, with whom Dawkins had signed the anti-harassment letter just weeks earlier, was not impressed. “I’m surprised and, frankly, shocked by Richard’s belligerent remarks about feminist bloggers over the past couple of days,” she told me. “Part of what made The God Delusion so popular was, surely, its indignant bluntness about religion. It was a best-seller; does that mean he ‘faked’ his outrage?”

There’s no denying that Dawkins played a formative role in the atheist movement, but it’s grown beyond just him. Remarks like these make him a liability at best, a punchline at worst. He may have convinced himself that he’s the Most Rational Man Alive, but if his goal is to persuade everyone else that atheism is a welcoming and attractive option, Richard Dawkins is doing a terrible job. Blogger and author Greta Christina  told me, “I can’t tell you how many women, people of color, other marginalized people I’ve talked with who’ve told me, ‘I’m an atheist, but I don’t want anything to do with organized atheism if these guys are the leaders.’”

It’s not just women who are outraged by Dawkins these days: author and blogger PZ Myers  told me, “At a time when our movement needs to expand its reach, it’s a tragedy that our most eminent spokesman has so enthusiastically expressed such a regressive attitude.”

What’s so frustrating, from the standpoint of the large and growing non-religious demographic , is that Dawkins is failing badly to live up to his own standards. As both an atheist and a scientist, he should be the first to defend the principle that no one is above criticism, and that any idea can be challenged, especially an idea in accord with popular prejudices. Instead, with no discernible sense of irony, Dawkins is publicly recycling the bad arguments so often used against him as an atheist: accusing his critics of being “outrage junkies” who are only picking fights for the sake of notoriety; roaring about “thought police” as though it were a bad thing to argue that someone is mistaken and attempt to change their mind; scoffing that they’re “looking for excuses to be angry” as though the tone of the argument, rather than its factual merits, were the most important thing; encouraging those who are targets of criticism to ignore it rather than respond.

It’s incredibly unfortunate to watch Dawkins walk down this path. Despite his claims, he is arguing in favor of maintaining the status quo. He doesn’t actively champion efforts to fight against sexism and sexual harassment in the atheist community (or in the wider culture). In fact, his words help provide support for such actions. Sam Harris is no better. Christopher Hitchens was no better. For all that these Horsemen proclaim to be ‘bright’ shining beacons of rationality and logic, on the subject of social justice issues, especially women’s rights, they are the Religious Right of the Atheist Movement. It’s time for them to shut up and move out of the limelight.

Richard Dawkins isn't so bright any more

Richard Dawkins isn’t so bright any more

At The Guardian, Adam Lee writes about the current shitstorm that Richard Dawkins has stirred up.

(excerpt)

The atheist movement – a loosely-knit community of conference-goers, advocacy organizations, writers and activists – has been wracked by infighting the last few years over its persistent gender imbalance and the causes of it. Many female atheists have explained that they don’t get more involved because of the casual sexism endemic to the movement: parts of it see nothing problematic about hosting conferences with all-male speakers or having all-male leadership – and that’s before you get to the vitriolic and dangerous sexual harassment, online and off, that’s designed to intimidate women into silence.

Richard Dawkins has involved himself in some of these controversies, and rarely for the better  – as with his infamous “Dear Muslima”  letter in 2011, in which he essentially argued that, because women in Muslim countries suffer more from sexist mistreatment, women in the west shouldn’t speak up about sexual harassment or physical intimidation. There was also his sneer at women who advocate anti-sexual harassment policies .

But over the last few months, Dawkins showed signs of détente with his feminist critics – even progress. He signed a joint letter with the writer Ophelia Benson, denouncing and rejecting harassment ; he even apologized for the “Dear Muslima” letter . On stage at a conference in Oxford in August, Dawkins claimed to be a feminist  and said that everyone else should be, too.

Then another prominent male atheist, Sam Harris, crammed his foot in his mouth and said that atheist activism lacks an “estrogen vibe” and was “to some degree intrinsically male” . And, just like that, the brief Dawkins Spring was over.

On Twitter these last few days, Dawkins has reverted to his old, sexist ways and then some. He’s been very busy snarling about how feminists are shrill harridans who just want an excuse to take offense, and how Harris’s critics (and his own) are not unlike thought police witch-hunter lynch mobs . Dawkins claimed that his critics are engaged in “clickbait for profit” , that they “fake outrage” , and that he wished there were some way to penalize them.

For good measure, Dawkins argued that rape victims shouldn’t be considered trustworthy if they were drinking .

Benson, with whom Dawkins had signed the anti-harassment letter just weeks earlier, was not impressed. “I’m surprised and, frankly, shocked by Richard’s belligerent remarks about feminist bloggers over the past couple of days,” she told me. “Part of what made The God Delusion so popular was, surely, its indignant bluntness about religion. It was a best-seller; does that mean he ‘faked’ his outrage?”

There’s no denying that Dawkins played a formative role in the atheist movement, but it’s grown beyond just him. Remarks like these make him a liability at best, a punchline at worst. He may have convinced himself that he’s the Most Rational Man Alive, but if his goal is to persuade everyone else that atheism is a welcoming and attractive option, Richard Dawkins is doing a terrible job. Blogger and author Greta Christina  told me, “I can’t tell you how many women, people of color, other marginalized people I’ve talked with who’ve told me, ‘I’m an atheist, but I don’t want anything to do with organized atheism if these guys are the leaders.’”

It’s not just women who are outraged by Dawkins these days: author and blogger PZ Myers  told me, “At a time when our movement needs to expand its reach, it’s a tragedy that our most eminent spokesman has so enthusiastically expressed such a regressive attitude.”

What’s so frustrating, from the standpoint of the large and growing non-religious demographic , is that Dawkins is failing badly to live up to his own standards. As both an atheist and a scientist, he should be the first to defend the principle that no one is above criticism, and that any idea can be challenged, especially an idea in accord with popular prejudices. Instead, with no discernible sense of irony, Dawkins is publicly recycling the bad arguments so often used against him as an atheist: accusing his critics of being “outrage junkies” who are only picking fights for the sake of notoriety; roaring about “thought police” as though it were a bad thing to argue that someone is mistaken and attempt to change their mind; scoffing that they’re “looking for excuses to be angry” as though the tone of the argument, rather than its factual merits, were the most important thing; encouraging those who are targets of criticism to ignore it rather than respond.

It’s incredibly unfortunate to watch Dawkins walk down this path. Despite his claims, he is arguing in favor of maintaining the status quo. He doesn’t actively champion efforts to fight against sexism and sexual harassment in the atheist community (or in the wider culture). In fact, his words help provide support for such actions. Sam Harris is no better. Christopher Hitchens was no better. For all that these Horsemen proclaim to be ‘bright’ shining beacons of rationality and logic, on the subject of social justice issues, especially women’s rights, they are the Religious Right of the Atheist Movement. It’s time for them to shut up and move out of the limelight.

Richard Dawkins isn’t so bright any more

Further thoughts on Dawkins and Harris

Richard Dawkins has double down once again. Hell, he’s digging a hole so deep that it’s got to be getting pretty hot in there.  You can read the latest Tweets from Dawkins here, where he shits on PZ Myers, ostensibly a friend of his.  What are his reasons? I don’t know? Why does he dismiss the criticisms-explained at length, from many people-about his actions or those of Sam Harris?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that both Dawkins and Harris have a problem.  They refuse to confront the ugly shit inside them. The following is a comment I left at Pharyngula:

As I started to compose this comment, I thought: we’re not asking much of people like Dawkins and Harris. That all people are asking is that they listen to what we’re saying. That they open themselves up to criticism and accept that they can be wrong. That they peel back their layers of privilege and recognize the signs of the internalized sexism they’ve carried with them their entire lives.

But then I thought:
Framing it that way appears as if this is an easy task.
I remember when I started confronting my biases. It *wasn’t* easy. I remember when I started seeing how women were treated. When I started listening to what women were saying. When I started recognizing the signs of sexism.
I was horrified.
It was everywhere.
I couldn’t escape it.
I couldn’t go to work and escape it.
I couldn’t go to a gay bar and escape it.
I couldn’t go to the movies or turn on the tv and escape it.
I saw it in the way people dressed.
I saw it in the way people acted.
I saw it in the way people spoke.
I saw it in the way people interacted.

One of the most striking moments for me came when I was sitting at a local gay bar and having a conversation with a friend. We were talking about effeminate gay men and drag queens and dating sites and more. This was maybe 2 years ago. I’d accepted that feminism was a worthy cause and was becoming comfortable calling myself one. But I was still in the process of understanding the sexist views I had.

Well one of those sexist views up and slapped me across the head right then and there.

I realized as my friend and I spoke, that all those people talking about how they won’t date a “girly gay man”…
•or those times when I said that phrase, followed by “I want to date a man bc he’s a man. I don’t want a date a man who acts like a girl”…
•or those people who put at the top of the Adam4Adam, Manhunt, or Grindr profile “not interested in nellie men, only want masculine men”
…I realized then and there that we…I…was trapped in thinking about gender in very rigid terms. I realized that I thought “men are supposed to be this way, and women are supposed to be this way”. I thought that any deviation from that was wrong. I thought that there was something wrong with a man acting like a woman, or having traits or characteristics typically associated with women. I realized how deep sexism ran. It runs so deep it affects how we view ourselves, as well as the people around us. It shapes our opinions of our friends, our family, our coworkers, even strangers.
It.
Runs.
Deep.

Reflecting on that, I realize now, that we *are* asking for a lot from Dawkins and Harris.

But you know what?
We’re not asking the impossible.

We are not asking either of them to do anything we aren’t willing to do ourselves…what we are continually doing ourselves. We’re asking them to be better people. We’re asking them to look deep inside themselves and confront all that is ugly within them.

That’s where it becomes difficult.
Who wants to accept that there’s ugly shit inside you?
Who wants to accept that you can be capable of being a sexist/homophobic/racist/transphobic bigot?

That is hard to do.
It ain’t easy.

But that’s how we’re going to become better people.
That’s how we become a better species.
It’s not going to be a cakewalk. It won’t be unicorns and butterflies and chocolate covered strawberries. It’s going to be tough and it’s not going to end. It’s going to be a continual process that we carry with us for the rest of our lives.

Confronting the internalized issues that we all have is not easy.
But it’s damn well worth it.
And it’s something Every. Fucking. Person. Should. Do.

That’s the only way we’re going to reshape this world and leave it better for those who come after us.

I…We are not holding Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins to some impossible standard. We’re holding them to same standard we hold ourselves and others to. They continue to fail to measure up to that standard.

One day I hope they’ll recognize what they’re doing and dig deep…deep into their core and realize that they have some shit to come to terms with. I hope they do this because not believing in gods is NOT. FUCKING. ENOUGH.

Further thoughts on Dawkins and Harris

I'm glad I never had atheist heroes

If I had, and they went by the name of Richard Dawkins or Michael Shermer, I’d be deeply disgusted with them.  Oh, wait, there’s another name to add to that:  Sam Harris.

I also asked Harris at the event why the vast majority of atheists — and many of those who buy his books — are male, a topic which has prompted some to raise questions of sexism in the atheist community. Harris’ answer was both silly and then provocative.

It can only be attributed to my “overwhelming lack of sex appeal,” he said to huge laughter.

“I think it may have to do with my person slant as an author, being very critical of bad ideas. This can sound very angry to people..People just don’t like to have their ideas criticized. There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree instrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women,” he said. “The atheist variable just has this – it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.”

Atheism-it’s more of a guy thing (reminds me of Shermer’s comments a while back).  No Sam Harris, atheism isn’t a guy thing. It isn’t a masculine thing.  Having a “critical posture”-whatever the fuck that is-isn’t something intrinsic to men that women lack.  Hell, critical posture-or what he more than likely means, critical thinking– in general is something everyone has to work at. I’d hardly say it’s intrinsic to anyone.  It’s a tool that has to be learned and honed.  Atheism, like “critical posture”, doesn’t have a testosterone vibe, as you seem to think it does and it’s both insulting and deeply sexist to claim otherwise.  What about all the women out there who are atheists and are good at critical thinking?  Do they count for nothing?  Are they of no value to you?  If they are atheists-and generally I take women at their word when they self-identify-what does that say about your belief that atheism is more attractive to men?

But wait, there’s more:  Harris is a believer in gender essentialist bullshit.  Women aren’t inherently nurturing. They’re reared in a society that pushes that as a virtue for them.  Moreover, men can be and often are, nurturing as well.  Men and women are not as different as Harris seems to think:

Physical strength between men and women using data from the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s long jump, high jump, and javelin throw competitions shows distinct differences between the sexes. Assertiveness as based on self-reported measures of competitiveness, decisiveness, sense of superiority, persistence, confidence, and the ability to stand up under pressure does not show the same gender gap.

For 122 different characteristics, from empathy to sexuality to science inclination to extroversion, a statistical analysis of 13,301 individuals did not reveal any distinct differences between men and women.

Gender can be a predictor for stereotypic activities like scrapbooking or boxing, but men and women don’t think about their relationships in “qualitatively different” ways, no matter what self-help books like Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus may claim.

While there are average differences between the sexes, they aren’t consistent enough to accurately characterize the entire group. Just because a man or woman fits into one stereotype for their gender doesn’t mean they will fit into another.

“The possession of traits associated with gender is not as simple as ‘this or that'” the authors write.

I’d also criticize the writer of this piece, Michelle Boorstein, for asking the question in the first place. Perhaps the public face of the atheist movement is largely male, but atheists in general?  Does Boorstein have evidence of that, or was she making an assumption?  I suspect the latter.  If so, you know what assuming does…

****

Update:

It seems I was right to question whether or not the vast majority of atheists are men.  It turns out they’re not.  Over at Greta Christina’s blog, she reveals some interesting information:

According to the WIN-Gallup International “Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism 2012,” August 6, 2012 (PDF, Table 8, page 20 of 25), when asked, “Irrespective of whether you attend a place of worship or not, would you say you are a religious person, not a religious person or a convinced atheist?”, 60% of men and 57% of women said “A religious person.” 23% of men and 23% of women said, “Not a religious person.” 12% of men and 14% of women said “A convinced atheist.” (“Don’t know/no response” got 5% from men and 6% from women.)

I'm glad I never had atheist heroes

I’m glad I never had atheist heroes

If I had, and they went by the name of Richard Dawkins or Michael Shermer, I’d be deeply disgusted with them.  Oh, wait, there’s another name to add to that:  Sam Harris.

I also asked Harris at the event why the vast majority of atheists — and many of those who buy his books — are male, a topic which has prompted some to raise questions of sexism in the atheist community. Harris’ answer was both silly and then provocative.

It can only be attributed to my “overwhelming lack of sex appeal,” he said to huge laughter.

“I think it may have to do with my person slant as an author, being very critical of bad ideas. This can sound very angry to people..People just don’t like to have their ideas criticized. There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree instrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women,” he said. “The atheist variable just has this – it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.”

Atheism-it’s more of a guy thing (reminds me of Shermer’s comments a while back).  No Sam Harris, atheism isn’t a guy thing. It isn’t a masculine thing.  Having a “critical posture”-whatever the fuck that is-isn’t something intrinsic to men that women lack.  Hell, critical posture-or what he more than likely means, critical thinking– in general is something everyone has to work at. I’d hardly say it’s intrinsic to anyone.  It’s a tool that has to be learned and honed.  Atheism, like “critical posture”, doesn’t have a testosterone vibe, as you seem to think it does and it’s both insulting and deeply sexist to claim otherwise.  What about all the women out there who are atheists and are good at critical thinking?  Do they count for nothing?  Are they of no value to you?  If they are atheists-and generally I take women at their word when they self-identify-what does that say about your belief that atheism is more attractive to men?

But wait, there’s more:  Harris is a believer in gender essentialist bullshit.  Women aren’t inherently nurturing. They’re reared in a society that pushes that as a virtue for them.  Moreover, men can be and often are, nurturing as well.  Men and women are not as different as Harris seems to think:

Physical strength between men and women using data from the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s long jump, high jump, and javelin throw competitions shows distinct differences between the sexes. Assertiveness as based on self-reported measures of competitiveness, decisiveness, sense of superiority, persistence, confidence, and the ability to stand up under pressure does not show the same gender gap.

For 122 different characteristics, from empathy to sexuality to science inclination to extroversion, a statistical analysis of 13,301 individuals did not reveal any distinct differences between men and women.

Gender can be a predictor for stereotypic activities like scrapbooking or boxing, but men and women don’t think about their relationships in “qualitatively different” ways, no matter what self-help books like Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus may claim.

While there are average differences between the sexes, they aren’t consistent enough to accurately characterize the entire group. Just because a man or woman fits into one stereotype for their gender doesn’t mean they will fit into another.

“The possession of traits associated with gender is not as simple as ‘this or that'” the authors write.

I’d also criticize the writer of this piece, Michelle Boorstein, for asking the question in the first place. Perhaps the public face of the atheist movement is largely male, but atheists in general?  Does Boorstein have evidence of that, or was she making an assumption?  I suspect the latter.  If so, you know what assuming does…

****

Update:

It seems I was right to question whether or not the vast majority of atheists are men.  It turns out they’re not.  Over at Greta Christina’s blog, she reveals some interesting information:

According to the WIN-Gallup International “Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism 2012,” August 6, 2012 (PDF, Table 8, page 20 of 25), when asked, “Irrespective of whether you attend a place of worship or not, would you say you are a religious person, not a religious person or a convinced atheist?”, 60% of men and 57% of women said “A religious person.” 23% of men and 23% of women said, “Not a religious person.” 12% of men and 14% of women said “A convinced atheist.” (“Don’t know/no response” got 5% from men and 6% from women.)

I’m glad I never had atheist heroes